Cuma was a city of Magna Greece founded between 725 and 740 BC, where the Sibyl Cumana lived, famous for his prophecies written on palm leaves and entrusted to the wind.
The Magna Grecia, which included a large area of southern Italy and Asia Minor, was the outlet of a part of the new generation Greek who could not find vital space on their land. It was a continuous flow of migrants tended to found colonies that reproduced the abandoned homeland; These colonies were called “Magna Grecia” by the founders since housed a population of superior number to the motherland and for its cultural, economic and social performance.
These migrations were preceded by a visit of the “Ecista”, leader of the expedition, to the famous oracle of Delphi, to locate the site to found the new colony.
Cuma was founded by people originating from Euboian Cuma and Halkida, who were nearby towns located on the island Evia (Eubea) 50 km. north of Athens, as well as people coming from Aeolian Cuma, which was located on the west coast of Turkey, in turn colony of Euboian Cuma.
It was located near Lake of Averno between the current municipalities of Bacoli and Pozzuoli (Campania), on a hill on one side was protected by a promontory overlooking the sea, the other two sides it was protected by vast marshes today identified as the lake Fusaro and “Nuova Colmata”, that put in shelter from the mire of the neighbors.
Pitecusa, founded by the Greeks, was opposite, on the island of Ischia, Dikaiarchea (Pozzuoli), Partenope and Neapolis, founded of the Greeks, were near. These cities were ruled, as in the mother country, the aristocracy with a form of “democratic” government, each of them had its own army.
Cuma spread in Italy the Greek alphabet which was adopted by the Etruscans and Latins. The cultural dominance followed a military dominance, since the same ruled the Campania coast to Punta Campanella. Between 500 and 400 BC several wars were between the Cumans and their neighbors of Capua, of Etruscan origin, which all were resolved in favor of Cuma, so that the Campi Flegrei were regarded as “Country of Cuma”.
Only the Romans had the upper hand, however, appointed Cuma “civitas sine suffrage” and because he sided with Rome against Hannibal, was elevated to the rank of “Municipium”, adopting the Latin language; Campanian knights who had fought with Rome was recognized Roman citizenship and became residents of Cuma. It was chosen for its tranquility and health as a holiday site by wealthy Romans.
A Cuma resided the Sibyl of Cuma “Sibilla Cumana” which was the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo (deity of the Sun) and Achates (deity of the Moon). The various priestesses that followed one another over time were virgins dedicated to the temple and to their god. The temple of Apollo stood on the highest part of Cuma, and was visible from the sea in kilometers away.
The Sibyl lived in a cave below the hill, the Sibyl’s Cave “Antro della Sibilla”, which was developed with a straight cave 144 meters long, with trapezoidal ceiling, where there were several symmetrical openings. In this cave opened underground rooms that held the role of the temple and residence of the Sibyl; the antrum, due to the numerous openings, was crossed constantly by the wind.
In the floor of the cave opened fissures where sulfur dioxide vulcanic gas flowed out that, sucked hard by the Sibyl, made her go into a trance, the predictions gushed from this state of “furor”, whose words were reported on various Palm leaves, which were then exposed to violent air currents present in the cave (so the predictions were called “sibilline”); the predictions were read and interpreted as they had been mixed by the wind.
Virgilio mentions the Sibyl “Deifobe di Glauco” guiding Aeneas in the underworld and giving him his prediction, in the Aeneid. Ovidio speaking of Aeneas narrates that Apollo, in love with Sibyl, asked Deifobe what she wanted more, she took a handful of sand and asked to live a number of years as there are grains of sand she had in hand, forgetting to ask also eternal youth. Thus she grew old and for so long as to become more and more slender and petite, she became small as a cricket and was locked in a cage that was hung in the temple.
The Sibyl and rituals dedicated to Apollo survived even a few centuries after the Christianization of Cuma occurred around the third century AD
In medieval Cuma was conquered first by the Byzantines and then by the Lombard and was subject to the dominion of the Duchy of Naples. There was a long period in which the city declined under the raids of the Saracen pirates. It became a place of refuge of the same, for its strategic location and the presence of numerous caves where the Saracens could hide.
In 1207 the Neapolitans, led by Godfrey of Montefuscolo, determined to put an end to the incursions of the Saracens refugees around Cuma, met them finally defeating and destroying the town. The inhabitants of Cuma found shelter in Giugliano, where the bishop transferred the relics and the worship of saints and patrons Massimo e Giuliano.
Cuma remained uninhabited for many years; yet in 1600, through an incision at the time, it is known to exist, in ruins, the city and the cathedral built where there was the temple of Apollo; during the Bourbon kingdom marshes near Cuma were drained. After Second World War Cuma went repopulating, today is part of the municipality of Bacoli.
In 1932 Amedeo Maiuri, a studious of archeology, since 1924 superintendent for the antiquity of Naples and Southern Italy, oversaw the recovery of the archaeological site of the ancient city of Cuma and found the place of the Sibyl’s cave, hidden by a landslide in front of the entrance. Today the site, including the cave of the Sibyl, is accessible to tourists and studious.
The Diocese of Cuma still exists as a honorary bishop’s seat (ie without territory); strangely the current titular bishop is Monsignor Julio Maria Elias Montoya, from Colombia, Apostolic Vicar of El Beni (Columbia).
(Photo at the top: Antro della Sibilla cumana, Mentnafunangann, 2011, CC BY-SA 3.0)